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Barnes isn't Lion about awesome All Blacks

British and Irish Lions' Peter O'Mahony leads the team out before the first test of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour at Eden Park, Auckland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 24, 2017. See PA story RUGBYU Lions. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. Editorial use only. No commercial use or obscuring of sponsor logos. Editorial use only. No commercial use or obscuring of sponsor logos..
Paul McConville

SOMETHING strange happens to non-English European golf fans every two years when they find themselves in the unusual position of actually liking Ian Poulter. The brash dazzling-trousered Englishman is hard to warm to at the best of times, but when the Ryder Cup rolls round, the whole continent can get behind the ultra-competitive European hero.

I found myself catching a bit of the Poulteritis bug on Saturday when watching Sky Sports' coverage of the Lions first test against New Zealand. For most the time, Stuart Barnes is a myopic little Englander who sometimes struggles to see past the red rose and cross of St George's enough to make a subjective judgement, but when it comes to the Lions, it's ok to tolerate him a wee bit.

To be fair, he can be quite effusive in his praise of the Irish provinces, but not generally when they're facing English opposition.

Anyway, despite having weathered an early storm against the All Blacks storm, the Lions were on the back foot and Barnes reckoned it was all about territory, the red shirts simply weren't getting into the All Blacks half enough.

Like his namesake in the John B Keane play, The Field, Tadgh Furlong loves grafting away on a bit of turf, but when the Wexford man managed to break into enemy territory, he, as Elliot Daly would moments later, coughed up the oh so valuable possession with a knock-on.

It was frustrating stuff, but then joy erupted in the commentary box as Liam Williams broke away to help set up a try for the Tullow Tank Sean O'Brien.

"He's done Bill Williams, he's done Cruden..."said a delighted Barnes, no doubt relieved that the Lions were finally showing the flare and pace their backline had promised.

At half-time, Ian McGeechan, Sean Fitzpatrick and Stephen 'Fez' Ferris all agreed that had the Lions been a bit more ruthless in their finishing, it might be a different. There was a sense of impending doom from those of a northern hemisphere persuasion that they needed more points on the board ahead of a predictable All Blacks onslaught.

But it was the Lions who started the second half on the front foot, only to frustratingly fail to get the ball over the line and be ruthlessly punished.

Every so often, Will Greenwood, the Gary Neville of rugby analysis, would chime in with some spot on insights. The former England centre was a criminally underused and had to share time with Scott Quinnell, who disappointingly didn't refer to the Postcode Lottery in a broad Welsh accent once.

All that was left for Barnes to do was sit back at marvel at the recovery of All Blacks skipper Kieran Read - "Six weeks ago, he broke his thumb and was a serious doubt for the Test.." and the way the world champions had snuffed out any hope of a Lions fightback: "New Zealand are taking control and it's a long way back from here."

After Reiko Ioane zoomed in for his second try, Barnes summed up the collective mood: "All you can do is admire".

Again, rueing missed chances formed the bulk of the post-match analysis while 'Fez' beat the drum for our Rory, putting a case forward that Bestie should play in the second test.

Quinnell couldn't help but think what might have been: "If you keep the error count down and penalty count down, you have a chance against the All Blacks."

Then it wouldn't be so much of a lottery.


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